Beowulf

Beowulf

The national bestseller and winner of the Whitbread Award. Composed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf is the classic Northern epic of a hero’s triumphs as a young warrior and his fated death as a defender of his people. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on, physically and psychically exposed in the exhausted a...

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Title:Beowulf
Author:Unknown
Rating:
ISBN:0393320979
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:213 pages

Beowulf Reviews

  • J.G. Keely
    May 24, 2007

    There are different ways to translate, and it comes down to what you want to get across. Most creative authors have such a strong voice and sense of story that they will overwhelm the original author. As Bentley wrote of Pope's Iliad: "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer".

    Sometimes this sort of indirect translation is useful in itself, such as during the transition of the Renaissance from Italy to Britain. Many of the British poets rewrote Italian sonnets into English,

    There are different ways to translate, and it comes down to what you want to get across. Most creative authors have such a strong voice and sense of story that they will overwhelm the original author. As Bentley wrote of Pope's Iliad: "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer".

    Sometimes this sort of indirect translation is useful in itself, such as during the transition of the Renaissance from Italy to Britain. Many of the British poets rewrote Italian sonnets into English, and though the line of descent was unquestionable, the progeny was it's own work. Another example might be the digestion of Wuxia and Anime into films such as Tarantino's or The Matrix (though Tarantino's sense of propriety is often suspect).

    However, in these cases, we can hardly call the new work a translation of the old. You are not experiencing the old work but the inspiration it has wrought. Beowulf is just this sort of translation, capturing the excitement and passion of the story, but obliterating the details which make the work interesting to students of history or literary theory.

    Heaney's translation is a fun, rollicking epic, able to draw in even uninitiated students, which is no doubt why it is now included in Norton. Unfortunately, it is not a particularly useful tool for teaching the importance of the original work. Heaney severs many connections to the unique world of Beowulf.

    As the only surviving epic from its time, place, and tradition, Beowulf is a unique vision into a pre-Christian culture outside of the Mediterranean. Though the poem shows Christian revisions, these stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the work, and can usually be easily excised, unlike many pervasive Christian impositions on the 'pagan' cultures.

    Heaney is not a philologist nor a historian, but a popular poet. He doesn't have the background for conscientious translation, and the clearest sign that his translation is haphazard is the fact that there are no footnotes explaining the difficult decisions that most translators have to make in every line. Heaney also loses much of the alliteration and appositives that marked the artistry of the original.

    A Beowulf that can exist without context is a Beowulf that has well and truly been separated from its past. Perhaps his translation is suitable for an introduction to the work, but a good professor should be able to teach the original without much difficulty.

    Then again, perhaps the inclusion of this version in college classes has to do with the fact that college is no longer the path for scholars, but has been given the same equality treatment as art and poetry. College is now meant for your average, half-literate frat boy who only wants a BA so he can be a mid-level retail manager.

    Heaney's translation certainly suits for them, since it is the easiest version of the story this side of a digital Angelina. It's fun and exciting, certainly worth a read, but doesn't stand up as a translation.

  • AJ Griffin
    Jul 02, 2007

    If I wrote a list of things I don't give a shit about, I'm pretty sure "some big fucking monster whose name sounds like a word for the area between my balls and my ass that attacks alcoholics and is eventually slain by some asshole, told entirely in some ancient form of English that I don't understand" would be near the top (for the record, run-on sentences would not. Judge not).

    This was one of the first books I was ever assigned to read in high school, and I'm pretty sure it was the catalyst to

    If I wrote a list of things I don't give a shit about, I'm pretty sure "some big fucking monster whose name sounds like a word for the area between my balls and my ass that attacks alcoholics and is eventually slain by some asshole, told entirely in some ancient form of English that I don't understand" would be near the top (for the record, run-on sentences would not. Judge not).

    This was one of the first books I was ever assigned to read in high school, and I'm pretty sure it was the catalyst to my never caring about school again.

    God do I hate this fucking book.

  • Michael
    Jan 04, 2008

    I teach

    in my honors class, and it's a tale I've always loved. There's something about the raw power, the direct yet engaging storyline, the rhythm and tone of the story that draws the reader (or, ideally, the listener) into another world. The social conventions, alien in many ways to our modern mindset, show a world both brutal and honorable, where death and heroism go side-by-side, where every act has consequence and there is no expectation of joy and happiness—these things have to be

    I teach

    in my honors class, and it's a tale I've always loved. There's something about the raw power, the direct yet engaging storyline, the rhythm and tone of the story that draws the reader (or, ideally, the listener) into another world. The social conventions, alien in many ways to our modern mindset, show a world both brutal and honorable, where death and heroism go side-by-side, where every act has consequence and there is no expectation of joy and happiness—these things have to be wrested from existence and are of short duration. And the interplay of the original Pagan story and the Christian elements brought in by our monastic narrator show the tension of a people wrestling with their old beliefs and how to reconcile them with the new. The startling use of language and poetic diction make this a masterpiece of English literature.

    I've read a dozen translations (and even done my own crude one); each of them has different aspects to recommend it. Heaney's strength is in his poetic voice—he's done an amazing job of preserving the rhythms and alliterations so crucial to the format of the original verse and updated it without being so modern as to lose the flavor of the original. He uses some archaic terms and those of his Celtic ancestors, which work well and do not mar the understanding of readers new to the text. Best of all, this is a parallel translation, with the original Old English on the

    pages.

    My only quibbles have to do with some of Heaney's word choices. There are debates within the literary community about the nature of the monsters (and the heroes) in the poem, and Heaney takes a pretty hard line, translating some phrases and terms in ways that make his choices seem unavoidable (but which are not always supported in the original). Innocent phrases like "wight" and "spirit" are sometimes glossed as "demon" or "specter," and we lose the sense of some of the wonderful Old English kennings, like the description of Grendel as a

    , "walker on the borders."

    Overall, a really fine translation. (And since it's been immortalized in

    and all Norton's student editions, it will be

    version most everyone knows for the foreseeable future.)

  • Michael
    Nov 03, 2008

    *bum bum* IN A WORLD . . . *bum bum* . . . FULL OF NASTY MONSTERS . . . *bum bum* . . . WHO EAT PEOPLE AND BREAK INTO CASTLES . . . *bum bum* . . . THE BEASTLY GRENDEL LURKED LONG OVER THE MOORES . . . *bum bum* . . . BUT NOW . . . *Cut to scene of monster ripping someone's face off with his teeth*

    (silence. black screen.)

    *Unknown warriors approaching*

    *bum bum* . . . ONE M

    *bum bum* IN A WORLD . . . *bum bum* . . . FULL OF NASTY MONSTERS . . . *bum bum* . . . WHO EAT PEOPLE AND BREAK INTO CASTLES . . . *bum bum* . . . THE BEASTLY GRENDEL LURKED LONG OVER THE MOORES . . . *bum bum* . . . BUT NOW . . . *Cut to scene of monster ripping someone's face off with his teeth*

    (silence. black screen.)

    *Unknown warriors approaching*

    *bum bum* . . . ONE MAN . . . *bum bum* . . . ONE LARGE MAN . . .*bum bum* . . . OF NOBLE BIRTH AND LONG, LONG SWORD . . . *bum bum* . . . IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SAVE THEM.

    *cue symphony: BUM-BUM-BUUUUMMMMM! BUM-BUM-BUUUUMMMMM*

    Beowulf speaks:

    *Everyone looks around at each other, wondering what the fuck he's talking about*

    *Exciting symphony, something along the lines of "O Fortuna." combat shown as Beowulf tosses Grendel down, gets Grendel in a headlock, pokes him in his eyes. Beowulf takes his shoe off and starts hitting Grendel on the top of his head with it.*

    *Music stops. Shot of Beowulf on the shore, hand on his hilt.*

    Beowulf speaks:

    "Tis time that I fare from you. Father Almighty

    in grace and mercy guard you well,

    safe in your seekings. Seaward I go,

    'gainst hostile warriors hold my watch."

    BEOWULF. PG-13, Parents Strongly Cautioned. Contains Monsters Biting People's Faces Off, Graphic Far-Fetched Violence, and Shots of Beowulf's Bare Chest.

    *****

    Beowulf is totally the precursor to Conan, and Rambo. He's mothafuckin' badass. And you know how, since the Rambo movies are so old, they come out in boxed sets now? Think of this slim volume as a trilogy:

    BEOWULF

    BEOWULF II: MOMMY DEAREST

    BEOWULF III: BEOWULF VERSUS A BIG-ASS DRAGON

    While often trilogies get worse as they go along, this one actually improves. And it's safe to say that a fourth sequel will never come out about Beowulf after he gets old and out of shape. . . although that might be what BEOWULF VERSUS A BIG-ASS DRAGON is.

    If you like football, Stallone, Escape From New York, and can't get enough of Arnold Schwarzenegger, this is THE classic is for you.

  • Riku Sayuj
    Dec 27, 2012

    Could not consider

    complete without reading Heaney's acclaimed translation. The acclaim was well deserved. This version was much easier to read, less choked by stylistic anachronisms and more alive in every sense. Gummere's translation has an elegance and presence that intimidates and exalts the reading but Heaney brings it home, makes it as familiar as Homer's epics and somehow makes us at ease with the strange manes and the stranger tides.

  • Wanda
    Dec 23, 2013

    is an interesting window into the past—specifically where Christianity and older pagan religions overlapped. It was fascinating to see the older, warrior culture being lived with an overlay of Christianity. But deeds of bravery and being able to hold your liquor whilst on the mead-bench were still valuable commodities! Modesty was not yet a virtue—a warrior was expected to declaim his exploits (a la the Norse god, Bragi, from whom we get the English verb “to brag.”)

    Although I was familia

    is an interesting window into the past—specifically where Christianity and older pagan religions overlapped. It was fascinating to see the older, warrior culture being lived with an overlay of Christianity. But deeds of bravery and being able to hold your liquor whilst on the mead-bench were still valuable commodities! Modesty was not yet a virtue—a warrior was expected to declaim his exploits (a la the Norse god, Bragi, from whom we get the English verb “to brag.”)

    Although I was familiar with the story line of the first half of the poem, dealing with Grendel and his mother, I found the second half completely new. I was unaware of the portion dealing with a dragon that Beowulf faces. I know that Tolkien also translated this poem and I was amazed at how similar some sections of it were to parts of

    when Bilbo and the dwarves are dealing with Smaug, the dragon occupying the former home of the dwarves. Obviously,

    was inspiring for Tolkien.

    I know that I had to translate parts of this poem from the old English for a linguistics course that I took many years ago. I remember it being a difficult task and I have to admire Seamus Heaney’s accomplishment. He has created a very readable version of the text. I tried something quite different for me with this work—I borrowed both the text and the audio book from the library and allowed the poet to read his work to me, while I followed along in the text. The only problem with this arrangement was the abridgement of the spoken-word version, requiring occasional pausing on my part to find my place further ahead in the text. Despite this, I enjoyed the experience very much and plan to use audio-books for other foundational texts of Western literature, such as

    and

    .

    Several of my friends have warned me that is it very important who is providing the vocal performance on an audio-book. I felt that a poet of Heaney’s stature would have a good grasp of performing his work and I was not disappointed.

  • Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
    Aug 12, 2014

    As a college English major, I studied

    without any great enthusiasm; my real love was for the Romantic poets. And Chaucer, but that might have been partly because I thought it was hilarious that we were studying such bawdy material at BYU. Plus you can still puzzle out

    in the original Middle English, while

    in the original Old English--other than the immortal line "Bēowulf is mīn nama"--is beyond anyone but scholars, and it loses something in translation.

    So I c

    As a college English major, I studied

    without any great enthusiasm; my real love was for the Romantic poets. And Chaucer, but that might have been partly because I thought it was hilarious that we were studying such bawdy material at BYU. Plus you can still puzzle out

    in the original Middle English, while

    in the original Old English--other than the immortal line "Bēowulf is mīn nama"--is beyond anyone but scholars, and it loses something in translation.

    So I cheerfully forgot about

    until I was puttering around in Barnes and Noble one day, and came across Seamus Heaney's recent translation. I read his forward and was absolutely entranced by its brilliance. Heaney tosses off phrases like "the poem possesses a mythic potency" and talks about the "three archetypal sites of fear: the barricaded night-house, the infested underwater current, and the reptile-haunted rocks of a wilderness." He discusses how we are enveloped "in a society that is at once honour-bound and blood-stained, presided over by the laws of the blood-feud." And he explains in detail how he went about creating a new translation of the poem and the difficulty of finding the right voice:

    Anyway, all this is to explain why, after years of blissfully ignoring

    , I felt compelled to buy this book and give it another try. Did it hold up to my hopes? Well, not quite. I still appreciate

    more than I love it. But I heard the solemn, deliberate voice that Heaney was seeking to use, and I thought he did a great job of translating it as well as possible into modern English while preserving the original feel and intent of the poem. I love the liberal use of alliteration and the compound words (whale-road = sea; ring-giver = king) that are found in the original version of the poem as well as this translation. I felt the side-by-side nobility and brutality of these characters from (it's surmised) 6th century Scandinavia. And I was getting some serious Tolkien vibes from the ending, which is not a bad thing.

    In the end, it was a bit of a tough slog reading through the entire poem, but I'm glad I did it. I think I still love Heaney's forward more than I love the actual poem. Maybe I need to check out Heaney's other work. I also read to check out J.R.R. Tolkien's translation one of these days.

  • Aubrey
    Jan 05, 2015

    I doubt I would have liked this so much had

    not been such an essential part of me so early on. Books are the one and only thing that has been mine and my own since the beginning, and the rings, the dragons, the songs of days long lost and the coming of the end have filled the place of me that religion never could. While there is much to critique, it has sunk so deeply into my resonance that the best I can do is hope that everyone has such a refuge in their heritage as I do in E

    I doubt I would have liked this so much had

    not been such an essential part of me so early on. Books are the one and only thing that has been mine and my own since the beginning, and the rings, the dragons, the songs of days long lost and the coming of the end have filled the place of me that religion never could. While there is much to critique, it has sunk so deeply into my resonance that the best I can do is hope that everyone has such a refuge in their heritage as I do in English. Beowulf played the strings of Tolkien, Tolkien played the strings of me, and the most I can do is seek out the same in worlds beyond the same old, same old.

    Beyond my nostalgic tone, there is the text itself with its strong rhythm, unusual self-reflexivity, and a future that looks back onto the crossroads with relief and a yearning. They are old, these crossroads, traversing a time when bloodshed belonged to a single self and the conquering strain had not yet set the tone for my postcolonial times. It is a time popularly known as the Dark Ages, a naming that shows how little use there is in generic categorizations that ignore both the frame of reference and the multifarious qualities of "Dark." True, there is neither Emperor nor Empire, but in its place is loyalty, blood, and a breed of mythos that has lost none of its awful potency in the age of climate change and drones.

    Others have likely spoken about the lack of women, and it bears mentioning how few of them were worthy of a name in the family trees of the appendix. While good to keep an eye on during general reading, this text is an old and singular survivor of burning and religious condemnation, and what merits it would not have had it been written today will be granted. Much like my recently read 'Oroonoko,' it is a window to the past, and while much referred in academia to the detriment of less European texts, it also sparks a wondering thought: what else was going on in the world back then? What other voices have made their long and torturous way to the present conscious, and how many have yet to be given their due?

    My modern age has given me much in terms of technology, but still it malingers in Eurocentric repetition. I doubt I shall live to see the day when

    is joined by twenty or more of its polytongued siblings in halls that give each the credit they're due, but I can begin making my own way towards those waiting, not so foreign strings.

  • Francisco
    Jul 20, 2016

    Beowulf - you might have encountered it at a college English class. Your teacher may have written a few of the original lines of Old English on the blackboard and had you try to decipher them. There was probably lots of history taught in that class: the poem was written by an Anglo-Saxon poet some time between the 8th and the 11th century. The poet, a Christian, wrote about events taking place in "heathen" England two or three centuries before. If your English class was anything like mine there

    Beowulf - you might have encountered it at a college English class. Your teacher may have written a few of the original lines of Old English on the blackboard and had you try to decipher them. There was probably lots of history taught in that class: the poem was written by an Anglo-Saxon poet some time between the 8th and the 11th century. The poet, a Christian, wrote about events taking place in "heathen" England two or three centuries before. If your English class was anything like mine there was probably a lot of analysis about the "mixture" of world views - the Christian and the Germanic. And all along, you were probably hoping that the teacher move on to something more exciting. But here's why you may want to give this particular classic another try. First, chances are that the Seamus Heaney's translation will convey to you the essential beauty of the poem in a way that other translations couldn't do. And by "essential" I mean that sometimes it takes a poet's sensibility to intuit the right and clear presentation of another poet's meaning. It is not a case of avoiding the literal and the precise but rather the acknowledgment that translation is an art that requires not only scholarship but also creativity and intuition. All you have to do is read Seamus Heaney's introduction and you will know almost immediately that you are in the presence of a man of extraordinary gifts who has taken great care to present you with a work of everlasting beauty. I am not going to tell you about the "plot" of the poem because there is no "plot" other than three battles between a hero and evil represented in various forms. The fact that these representations of evil are "fantastic" only adds to the extraordinariness of this early work. One of the greatest contributions of this edition by Norton is the inclusion of the most incisive critical essays on the poem, including, J.R.R. Tolkien's ground breaking, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics where Tolkien takes on the countless critics who have lamented the poet's decision to portray conflicts between a man and monsters and dragons in lieu of more historical or more realistic encounters between humans. (Tolkien's essay, by the way, will also give you a greater understanding of why Tolkien chose to do certain things in The Lord of the Rings) What Tolkien will remind you of and what you will feel when you read the poem again is that the story of a man fighting battles he will eventually lose but which he must nevertheless continue fighting is as heart-enhancing today as it was in the eight century. Courage, after all, has little to do with the success of the fight.

  • Simona Bartolotta
    Dec 10, 2016

    I'm astounded by the

    of this poem. It makes me wish my Germanic philology course lasted forever so we could analyse it word by word, slowly, meticulously, languidly. This is why I personally suggest reading it with the help of a critical guide if you haven't the faintest idea what it tells about, when it was written and what it seeks to portrait, of the debate about it bein

    I'm astounded by the

    of this poem. It makes me wish my Germanic philology course lasted forever so we could analyse it word by word, slowly, meticulously, languidly. This is why I personally suggest reading it with the help of a critical guide if you haven't the faintest idea what it tells about, when it was written and what it seeks to portrait, of the debate about it being Christian or not, etc.

    If you're willing to do some research by yourself, I promise you're in for a treat.